Long Live the King

A restaurateur rebuilds his empire in a local landmark.

Le roi est mort, vive le roi!

The Hardware Grill made Larry Stewart the king of the Edmonton culinary scene; but, over the years, new restaurants led by young chefs may have made some of us forget about the time when Hardware was the place to dine in the city.

Located a half-block away from The Hardware Grill, in the rebuilt Alberta Hotel, Tavern 1903 shows that Stewart can reinvent himself. Just as the restaurant has refreshed the main floor of a historic building, Stewart has come up with a menu that simply blows me away.

To start, we order the crab cakes and the rib-eye rolls. The cakes are crunchy on the outside, moist inside, and are augmented by a corn relish that my wife slowly tries to deconstruct the dish to see if there’s any way she can re-create it at home. The beef melts in the mouth like butter – with chimichurri and a horseradish crme frache, it is about as decadent a small plate as you’ll find in the city.

The Tavern also features a mozzarella bar. The cheese that we so often take for granted is brought in from Toronto, and Stewart shows us exactly how versatile it can be. Delicate globs of mozzarella sit on a bed of bacon. But that’s not the end of the pork fat – there’s also bacon jam on the crostini and a hint of fennel. Soft yet crisp; salty yet sweet. There isn’t a taste bud that could take the night off when sampling this.

In keeping with the pork theme, the “Pig-Nick” is a feast for anyone who doesn’t have a vested interest in keeping kosher. Pork is served three ways: The bourbon-molasses ribs have a strong hint of cinnamon while the pork confit is smoky, and a strip of pork belly is served crispy on the outside, all fatty and sinful on the inside. My wife gives me some of her pasta with lobster and truffles. The trufffles lend earthiness to the dish.

Finish it off with the butterscotch, which is light and creamy, yet has a serious kick with a Scotch infusion. The candied pretzels give it crunch and depth and, well, it is the best meal I’ve had in a long time.

The king is back, kids.

(9802 Jasper Ave., 780-424-0152, tavern1903.com)

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